By Tara Judah
Perhaps watching a film about stillbirth and the haunting of pregnant women in isolation, while pregnant, was not the wisest of choices I’ve ever made. And yet, I found Emma Tammi’s The Wind (2018) thrilling to watch and enduring as a film I deeply admire for both its bravery in dealing with gendered, domestic themes inside the paradigms of traditionally gender biased genres, and in challenging their tropes whilst remaining just ambiguous enough to please both genre fans and those wanting a more critical exploration.
The Wind is a western, but it’s not about a man. It’s also a folkloric, supernatural horror but it’s not exactly about monsters, either. The Wind is a film about a woman, and the domestic space she tends and defends. Tammi highlights the savage nature of domestic chores as her protagonist Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) scrubs wood surfaces that are stained with blood, both literal and metaphorical; as she cleans and dries clothes that are soaked in the sweat of fear and back-breaking labour, meaning both work and childbirth; and as she starts and stokes the fire to create a hearth and to give warmth, both heat and comfort, even when bitter elements such as a ferocious wind keep blowing it out.
Lizzy and her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) live alone, childless, on a deserted prairie somewhere in America in the 1800s. Where and when, precisely, don’t really matter. What’s more important is how the two manage in such harsh surrounds. When finally, another couple arrive, the Macklins are excited. Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee) are odd, sure, but they are human. Lizzy and Isaac welcome them with a warm meal and a helping hand on the land. The Harpers seem grateful, if a little spiteful of their kindness.
Contemplating the devil with almost no interference from God, the film wonders how such extreme isolation and staid gender roles might also produce a certain hysteria or the inescapable trappings of mental illness. It also contemplates how much violence the domestic space is capable of holding, no matter how many times a day it is cleaned and cared for.
The film further explores how one woman might participate in demonising another woman, holding at arm’s length the verdict, giving more than enough space for the ponderance that patriarchal structures might also encourage such behaviours. Female rivalry is real in this microcosm of society, stranded on a western frontier, build upon death and haunted by inequity.
Tammi also uses a deliberate discontinuity – hair dos slightly altered, buttons done up and undone – to make us question what we think are sequential shots, in an effort to skew our understanding of linear space and time, and of narrative storytelling. This is a brilliantly timeless fable, that lets its audience linger over the question of who or what haunts and hunts women.
Directed by: Emma Tammi
Producer: David Grove Churchill Viste, Christopher Alender
Writer: Teresa Sutherland
Cinematography: Lyn Moncrief
Editor: Alexandra Amick
Cast: Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zukerman, Miles Anderson, Dylan McTee